As domestic travel begins to pick up, airport lounges are one of many things that flyers look forward to: but if you don’t already have an airport lounge membership, now isn’t the best time to buy one – at least, with Virgin Australia.
Since March, Virgin’s lounges have remained locked up, even as Qantas has re-opened many of its competing facilities, although that hasn't stopped Virgin Australia from continuing to sell new lounge memberships, which start at $750.
With that in mind, here are several reasons why that $750 is better-kept in your pocket, for now.
We don’t know when Virgin Australia lounges will re-open
With Virgin Australia choosing to keep its entire network of lounges closed – even where local regulations allow them to be open – travellers have been wondering for months when Virgin’s facilities will return.
The airline has not committed to a firm date for re-opening, advising only that lounges would continue to have their place at Virgin Australia, under the management of buyer Bain Capital.
“We are committed to providing leisure and corporate customers with best-in-class service, a comprehensive network of domestic and short-haul international destinations, lounges, and an award-winning loyalty program,” a Virgin Australia spokesperson recently told Executive Traveller.
With that uncertainty, would-be lounge members with upcoming travel plans still don’t know whether a lounge would be open to greet them upon departure.
As well, Virgin Australia lounge memberships commence on the day they’re purchased, meaning the clock starts ticking even before any new lounge member can start lounging:
We don’t know which Virgin Australia lounges will re-open
Aside from confirming that its domestic lounges in Alice Springs and Perth Terminal 2 will not return – and that the international lounge in Wellington would also be shuttered – Virgin Australia hasn’t outlined whether any of its other lounges will meet a similar fate.
For example, the airline’s flagship lounges in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are likely to remain, but there’s less certainty surrounding lounges at smaller airports like Cairns, the Gold Coast, and Mackay.
Virgin Australia could certainly decide to keep all its remaining lounges – giving it a footprint of 10 domestic locations – or could equally choose to further whittle back its network.
The airline has given no hints in this regard, and nor has its website, which continues to list Alice Springs, Perth (Terminal 2) and Wellington as being part of the lounge network, despite confirmation from Virgin Australia back in August that these lounges would permanently close.
Without knowing for sure which airports will keep lounges, and any that may not, travellers would be unwise to invest in a new Virgin Australia lounge membership, without knowing whether the places they routinely visit – or even their home city – will still be on the lounge map.
Without lounge access, membership has no other benefits
Unlike the competing Qantas Club – which also bundles benefits such as priority check-in, extra checked baggage and access to on-departure upgrades – Virgin Australia’s lounge membership program is exactly that: a card that grants lounge access.
With all Virgin Australia lounges still closed, and with no alternative provided (such as a food and beverage voucher to spend in the terminal), a new membership serves no purpose.
Although Virgin Australia’s website still claims the card carries other benefits like “reciprocal access to selected Air New Zealand lounges”, Virgin Lounge members haven’t been welcome in those facilities since October 2018, when the two airlines ended their trans-Tasman alliance.
Executive Traveller made Virgin Australia aware of this issue several weeks ago, but at the time of publishing, this benefit continues to be promoted on the same pages where new Virgin Australia lounge memberships are sold:
There are alternatives to Virgin Australia Lounge membership
Virgin Australia Lounge is but one of many programs that Australian travellers can join to enjoy airport perks, but with a total first-year price tag of $750, it’s worth giving the alternatives a look, even if you regularly fly with Virgin Australia.
Aside from Qantas Club – which covers lounge access for Qantas and Jetstar flights – Priority Pass is a popular independent program, and provides benefits regardless of the airline the traveller has booked.
Although Rex’s lounges, like Virgin Australia’s, are temporarily closed, Priority Pass members can also use their membership for ‘dining credit’ at participating airport cafes, bars and restaurants: and this does remain available.
In the domestic terminals of Sydney Airport (T2 & T3), Brisbane and Canberra, one Priority Pass ‘lounge entry’ unlocks $36 of food and beverage credit at participating locations – and with Priority Pass selling unlimited memberships, it’s easy for regular travellers to get their money’s worth.
Dining privileges don’t apply to Priority Pass members who get their card for free via American Express, but remain available to those who have their membership supplied via other credit cards, such as Westpac Altitude Black or St.George Amplify Signature.
The independent LoungeKey program operates in a similar way, as you’ll find bundled with the HSBC Platinum Credit Card.
Of course, Priority Pass and LoungeKey members can also access a broader network of lounges when travelling internationally from Australia, and when overseas, as travel restrictions permit.